Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: January 2024 | Last updated: February 2024
Triptans are a type of medicine used to treat migraine attacks. Triptans do not prevent most attacks. Instead, the drugs are used as an acute treatment. That means triptans are most effective if taken at the start of a migraine.1
Triptans may be taken as oral tablets, nasal sprays, or injections under the skin, which affects how quickly they work. You and your healthcare provider can decide which drug you should take and in what form. These decisions can depend on your migraine pattern, symptoms, and budget.1
Have you taken Imitrex or generic sumatriptan for migraines?
How do triptans work?
Triptans target specific serotonin receptors on the brain’s blood vessels and nerve endings. Serotonin is a chemical messenger (neurotransmitter) that sends information between nerve cells in your brain and the rest of your body.2
Triptans work to block certain neurotransmitters and narrow blood vessels. This process decreases the pain and inflammation of a migraine attack.2
Triptan is a general term for the drug class (group or type of drug). The names of all the generic drugs in the triptan class end in “triptan.” Examples include:1-4
- Tablets such as Amerge® (naratriptan), Frova® (frovatriptan), and Imitrex® (sumatriptan)
- Dissolving (melting) tablets such as Maxalt-MLT® (rizatriptan) and Zomig-ZMT® (zolmitriptan)
- Nasal sprays such as Imitrex® nasal (sumatriptan), Tosymra® (sumatriptan), and Zomig® nasal (zolmitriptan)
- Nasal powders such as Onzetra Xsail® (sumatriptan
- Injections (shots) such as Zembrace SymTouch® (sumatriptan succinate)
What are the possible side effects?
Side effects can vary depending on the specific drug you are taking. The most common side effects of triptans include:2
- Chest pain
- Neck pain
These are not all the possible side effects of triptans. Talk to your healthcare provider about what to expect when taking triptans. You also should call your doctor if you have any changes that concern you when taking triptans.
Other things to know
Triptans are not for everyone. People with heart disease, high blood pressure, or peripheral vascular disease may not be able to take them. Triptans cannot be used together with certain medicines. Talk to your healthcare provider about triptans if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.1
Triptans do not help every person or every headache. Using triptans too often can make them ineffective or cause more headaches. But some people can use triptans as needed for years.1,3
Different triptans will work for different people. Over time one triptan may stop working for you. But another triptan could still be effective. If your current triptan is not working for you, talk with your healthcare provider about trying a different one.1,2
Before beginning treatment for migraine, tell your healthcare provider about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you take. This includes over-the-counter drugs.